In the past several years I have read a myriad of books on biblical meditation, praying Scripture, and lectio divina. This book by John Jefferson Davis stands out as utterly unique. It is unique in terms of its depth of theological reflection and for the inclusion of scientific research related to meditation. The book falls into two unequal halves. The first half, much longer and more technical, sets forth his theologically grounded theory of meditation and the second half gives advice on the practicalities of meditation.
The intended audience of the book is not clear. The technical language and level of theological argument require a persevering reader with some theological literacy. After a discussion of “logopneumatic epistemology,” the author asserts, “this is a book on meditation, not a treatise on epistemology directed to academic philosophers” (p. 94), but one wonders at times about the real emphasis of the book. While the focus of the book is meditation, it is treated in such a highly technical way that it significantly restricts its audience. The author chooses to use a number of metaphors from computing (e.g., Skyped in, broadband connection) that may work well for some readers today, but will likely seem quirky and dated very quickly.
The argument that receives the bulk of the pages in the book is that we should approach biblical meditation on the basis of three guiding perspectives: Trinitarian theology, inaugurated eschatology, and union with Christ. It is in this portion that he provides some of his unique and most helpful insights into the phenomena of biblical reading and meditation. He states, “Because we are united to Christ in our conversion by the Holy spirit, God is really present to us in the prayerful, meditative reading of Scripture: this is the central claim concerning union with Christ in relation to biblical meditation” (p. 41). He uses the reality of our union with Christ and the presence of the Triune God to pull meditators away from the idea of meditation as an individual self-improvement project, for it is nothing less than “being ‘invited into the circle’ of love, joy, and peace that the Father, Son and Spirit have enjoyed among themselves from all eternity” (p. 54).
Davis has provided a theological rationale, based on his theological exegesis and Reformed-oriented sources, for conceiving of reading as a deeply spiritual experience and a way of having fellowship with God. Such a vantage point is fairly common in texts on meditation and lectio divina, but Davis has taken the time to carefully argue his point, not just assert it. He makes the case for skeptics who might be off-put by popular understanding of what a more fulsome reading entails. The argument for the genuine presence of the Triune God in our reading of Scripture will find widespread support among the book’s audience, but other correlates that he derives from this will probably find a less welcome hearing. For example, he calls for “a recovery of the fourfold sense of Scripture in the ancient church as a legitimate way of faithfully meditating on Scriptures” (p. 107). He makes an adequate case for understanding Scripture to have multiple levels of meaning, but does not really establish why a fourfold meaning is the most adequate way of conceptualizing this.
Chapter seven addresses the practicalities of meditation. He provides practical guidance but of a very limited nature considering that entire books are devoted to this subject. He briefly presents three levels of meditation: biblical meditation (getting started), whole-brain meditation (the next step), and worldview meditation (the five practices of right comprehension). This is the chapter that might have led many readers to pick up the book, and the advice given is solid but perhaps more sparse than readers anticipate. He treats a number of contemplative approaches to prayer (e.g., centering prayer) and shows a good grasp of the these practices, but his dismissal of the Jesus Prayer and cautions on Centering Prayer seem more of a personal preference than grounded in theological reflection.
For the reader in search of a well-reasoned rationale for the spiritual nature of meditating on Scripture, this is a good book to consult. It provides a rich bibliography and argues from well-established sources. The book is somewhat disjointed, and one can imagine that it is built on course material drawn together for this project; so there is an unevenness in depth of treatment. Yet while it is not a book for the faint of heart, a careful reading will be rewarded richly with the insights and a doxological experience.